It was the middle of June and I was working in a warehouse unloading trucks by hand, working side by side with guys who had all been to prison and sold drugs at one point or another. I spent the day sweating my ass off while covered in some sort of thick dust. I left the warehouse, ran home and showered and hopped on a train to Brooklyn.
Within a span of 3 hours, I went from doing the most grueling, bullshit work to eating in a high end Brooklyn Heights restaurant spending $100 on some appetizers and drinks with a good friend of mine. We spent the evening talking about art, movies, theories about how we perceive time, and the human experience - basically everything I would never speak about in the warehouse. I hustled to get back to the Path train so I could catch the last train of the night, made it home, and proceeded to pass out. The next day I woke up around 7 am and threw on my jeans and boots and went back to work. I'm not special, but I felt equally comfortable unloading the trucks as I did sitting in nice restaurant, with good conversation and $12 drinks.
Rich and poor, black and white, straight and queer. Most people pick sides. I was never able to pick. My father is black, my mother is white, and most people think I'm latino. I've never been black enough and obviously I haven't been white enough to pass. Even though I speak a little Spanish I'm definitely not latino. I attended private schools my entire life, and have some extremely wealthy longtime friends. I also grew up in one of the most dysfunctional towns in the state of New Jersey. It's a place where the crime rates have always exceeded national averages and the high school's graduaton rates are consistently amongst the lowest in the state. I've also worked manual labor jobs that are typically done by people who are regularly ignored by wealthier, more educated Americans. I've seen this country from different angles.
The talk over the last few years about race, class, and sexuality and gender issues is necessary but major media has made it absurd. Different outlets spend time promoting their ideas and giving time to pundits who rarely have anything of substance to add. So, being someone who's experienced a lot of what America has to offer, directly and indirectly, these are things that I think can help.
1. Immerse yourself in different social circles
If you're wealthy, I'm not talking about volunteering. I'm talking about going someplace new and really talking to new people. You can do this with sports, a hobby, or even when taking a new job. Put yourself around different people. Get to know them. Find out what you have in common - I guarantee there's something.
The biggest thing you get from this is learning that everyone is the same. We all have the same desires. If you don't take the time to get to know other people you'll never understand where they're coming from. If more people did this, the results would be staggering.
I once had a guy start telling me some black jokes. I guess he thought this was the best way to relate to someone he just met. It started fairly tame, but by the third joke it was just offensive. I told him that I was half black and that I didn't find the jokes very funny. He turned bright red and said something about thinking I was Hispanic. To ease the tension he proceeded to tell another joke, this time making fun of gay men. I stopped him and said look, that might be funny to you, but I have a lot of friends who are gay and that's just not cool. He got quiet and walked off. I'm not some sort of PC nut, I love edgy jokes when they come from someone with a real perspective. But there is something about an old white guy bashing blacks and gays that pisses me off. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't act like that if he had black and queer friends or relatives.
The fear and prejudice that people carry with them is a bit terrifying. I hear people make statements everyday that put down one group or another. Racial jokes (oddly enough there are no good ones about white people), homophobia, fear of people with more or less money, even Puerto Ricans and Dominicans have beef over which country is better - I've heard it all.
Go meet people who aren't like you. It will be uncomfortable at first, but if you hang in for a little bit, you'll find that they have more in common with you than you might think. Plus we all love it when people who are different than us try to genuinely relate. It feels good, so get past that discomfort. Don't be afraid. Life is short.
2. Read books/ watch movies/ listen to music that you wouldn't find on your own
We are the content we consume. If you only consume certain kinds of media, switch it up. Shock your system. If you only listen to 1 or 2 kinds of music, go on Spotify and just explore random music. Put yourself on a timer and force yourself to listen to something new. If you read, read something new. And if you don't read, start reading. Great resources for things to read are Brain Pickings, Farnam Street, and Ryan Holiday.
Watch a random movie and just take it in. Go to an indie movie theater and watch something you've never heard of - why not? It's a big world and our media is how we relate to it most of the time. If you can't travel, go watch a foreign movie, listen to foreign music. It's the next best thing and it will give you insights that you'd never find on your own.
It kills me when I hear people say, "Oh I'd never watch that, it looks *insert negative adjective*." Or when people hear different music and say, "What the hell is this?!"
There are 7 billion people on the planet who all like to tell stories and create art. It comes from different places and different roots, but it's all about the same things. Again, we are all the same. Don't write something off without trying it - that's a narrow way to live.
3. The James Altucher method
If you don't know James Altucher, check him out, he's great. But he has two ways of looking at people that I've always used but never took the time to describe. He says it helps him to look at everyone he meets like they're his children and that they are going to die tomorrow. I love both approaches.
Looking at people like they are your children is an easy concept to understand, but hard to execute in the moment. If that man or woman acting like a dick was your child, you'd probably be mad, but you'd be much kinder. You'd take into consideration that they are just having a bad moment and that they aren't a bad person.
The idea of treating people like they are going to die tomorrow is profound. Since we've all heard things like "Live like this is your last day" or "What would you do if you found out you were going to die tomorrow?" In reality, most people would probably act like lunatics. I know I'd probably do some silly stuff for no reason. But when you shift your thinking when dealing with others to "What if this is the last day this person has on this planet?" You open up and magic happens.
The more people you meet and interact with, the easier it is to adopt this kind of thinking. You go from seeing someone as a jerk who's out to ruin your day, to seeing them as someone who might need help, or is dealing with a difficult time in their lives. It stops you from having negative knee-jerk reactions.
Keep these things in mind the next time you're out. Smile at someone who's being rude. Be nice when someone else isn't being nice to you. You'd be shocked at how you can turn someone's day around with a simple gesture.
After the shooting in Charleston and the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage, I'm glad people are talking about these important human rights issues, but that's not enough. There was a lot of backlash after the gay marriage decision. There were many people who still wouldn't admit that the shooting was racially motivated. There are still walls up.
In my estimation the only way to break down those final walls is to get to know each other. It's hard to want kill someone you know and understand. It's hard to deny people you know the right to be happy.
People want to have a "national dialogue" on the major issues but they forget that you can't have a real conversation if you aren't willing to understand the other side. The more we open ourselves up to understanding the other side, the easier it will be to move toward the kind of future we all want and deserve.